Akhtiorskaya’s sideways humor allows rays of genuine emotion to filter through the social and domestic satire.

PANIC IN A SUITCASE

Given current events, Akhtiorskaya’s debut—concerning an immigrant family’s ambivalent ties to America and those who choose to stay behind in Ukraine—could not be more timely.

As the novel opens in 1993, Esther and Robert Nasmertov, once highly respected doctors in Odessa, have been settled for two years in the Russian/Ukrainian Jewish enclave of Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, where their medical practices have dwindled and they struggle with their own health problems. Living with them are their chunky, sullen 10-year-old granddaughter, Frida, her mother, Marina (the Nasmertovs' daughter), who cleans houses for wealthier Jews and eventually becomes a nurse, and her low-level computer-tech husband, Levik. Absent is Esther and Robert’s son, Pasha, an up-and-coming poet. A convert to Eastern Orthodoxy, he remains in Odessa with his wife and adolescent son. When Esther is diagnosed with cancer, Marina arranges for Pasha to visit. Akhtiorskaya’s set-piece descriptions of his monthlong stay—a family beach outing; a birthday weekend in a cramped lake cabin; a literary soiree—are drawn with sharp humor, telling character sketches and sensory flamboyance. Esther, Robert and Marina want Pasha, whom they all consider helpless and hapless, to stay in America where they can take care of him. Pasha is put off by what he sees as Brighton Beach’s second-rate version of Odessa, but he enjoys Manhattan's expat literary social life. Cut to 2008. Word comes to Brooklyn that Pasha’s son is engaged. Frida, thinner but still sullenly unhappy, decides to attend the wedding and receives a less-than-enthusiastic welcome to Odessa. Divorced and remarried to a woman he met in New York, Pasha has become a literary lion based on the work he published (and Frida never bothered to read) shortly after his visit to America 15 years ago. As Akhtiorskaya showed America through Pasha’s eyes, she now offers Frida’s vision of Crimea as chaotic, decrepit, yet enticingly surreal.

Akhtiorskaya’s sideways humor allows rays of genuine emotion to filter through the social and domestic satire.

Pub Date: July 31, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-59463-214-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: June 5, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2014

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Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

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A young Irish couple gets together, splits up, gets together, splits up—sorry, can't tell you how it ends!

Irish writer Rooney has made a trans-Atlantic splash since publishing her first novel, Conversations With Friends, in 2017. Her second has already won the Costa Novel Award, among other honors, since it was published in Ireland and Britain last year. In outline it's a simple story, but Rooney tells it with bravura intelligence, wit, and delicacy. Connell Waldron and Marianne Sheridan are classmates in the small Irish town of Carricklea, where his mother works for her family as a cleaner. It's 2011, after the financial crisis, which hovers around the edges of the book like a ghost. Connell is popular in school, good at soccer, and nice; Marianne is strange and friendless. They're the smartest kids in their class, and they forge an intimacy when Connell picks his mother up from Marianne's house. Soon they're having sex, but Connell doesn't want anyone to know and Marianne doesn't mind; either she really doesn't care, or it's all she thinks she deserves. Or both. Though one time when she's forced into a social situation with some of their classmates, she briefly fantasizes about what would happen if she revealed their connection: "How much terrifying and bewildering status would accrue to her in this one moment, how destabilising it would be, how destructive." When they both move to Dublin for Trinity College, their positions are swapped: Marianne now seems electric and in-demand while Connell feels adrift in this unfamiliar environment. Rooney's genius lies in her ability to track her characters' subtle shifts in power, both within themselves and in relation to each other, and the ways they do and don't know each other; they both feel most like themselves when they're together, but they still have disastrous failures of communication. "Sorry about last night," Marianne says to Connell in February 2012. Then Rooney elaborates: "She tries to pronounce this in a way that communicates several things: apology, painful embarrassment, some additional pained embarrassment that serves to ironise and dilute the painful kind, a sense that she knows she will be forgiven or is already, a desire not to 'make a big deal.' " Then: "Forget about it, he says." Rooney precisely articulates everything that's going on below the surface; there's humor and insight here as well as the pleasure of getting to know two prickly, complicated people as they try to figure out who they are and who they want to become.

Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

Pub Date: April 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-984-82217-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Hogarth/Crown

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

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ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.

In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4658-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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